There are excellent art supplies to be found everywhere and at all price points if you’ve got the time to do a little digging. Of course, an art supply store will give you a wide selection of items and knowledgeable salespeople to help you get what you need. Large online retailers have anything you think of, and even more things you didn’t know existed. I’ve found gently used and brand-new supplies at secondhand stores. And the pencils I used in this pinecone drawing were something I purchased many years ago at a dollar store, one of my favorite places to find fantastic deals on materials for my art classes and my personal art practice.

Now, my purchase was so long ago that these “AquaSketch” pencils are no longer being produced. Luckily, water-soluble graphite pencils from other brands are still available so you have options if you’re interested in trying this method. And I suggest you do, because I had no idea what little miracles they would turn out to be!

You simply draw with water-soluble graphite pencils as you would any other pencil, then add a bit of water to turn them into a flowing, liquid graphite wonderment. These are so much fun to experiment with. They are great for shading and were really effective in helping finish a drawing quickly. Just simple, exceptional performance.

These pencils need some practice to figure out the correct ratio of water to graphite. There are differences based on the brand and composition of the pencils, their age, how hard you press when drawing, and what kind of paper you’re using. Accounting for these factors, and adjusting your materials, makes a huge difference in the outcome.

After my many hours of practice, getting a feel for the pencils and understanding how much water to use, I needed to decide on a subject for this time lapse drawing. I chose a pinecone for its limited color palette and all those hidden nooks that create interesting shadows. Not the most exciting subject, but beautiful and complicated enough to bring out the best in these pencils. Besides, even though I have decades of experience drawing, I have only hours of experience with the water-soluble graphite. A simpler subject is the right choice for me while I’m still learning.

This project has some similarities to my India ink and water illustrations. I find that I have more control with these pencils, and a little more forgiveness with mistakes. The India ink is a bolder medium, but I really enjoy the freedom of these pencils too.

What you need:

  • Water-soluble graphite pencils
  • Thick drawing paper
  • Water
  • A paintbrush

How to create your own drawing:

  1. Using the water-soluble pencils and paper, draw your chosen subject. Use a firmer hand than you would for conventional sketching, you’ll need a little extra graphite on the paper for the next step.
  2. Once you’re happy with your basic drawing, dip the paintbrush in water and apply to areas of your drawing where you want to create depth, dimension, and shadow.

Water-soluble graphite pencils are wonderful for learning how to balance your lights, whites and darks. You can also create shadows and gradients much easier, as you watch the water blend into multiple shades.

Start out with any subject you like! Play and then play again with them until you become comfortable. Then just sit back and be amazed at what happens.